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For their own good
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Health care as good as Congress gets? Well . . .
By John Barry, Times Staff Writer
Published February 26, 2008
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton say Americans deserve health care as good as Congress gets.
That's a wonderful notion, but they don't really mean that. Members of Congress have their own pharmacy, right in the Capitol. They also have a team of doctors, technicians and nurses standing by in case something busts in a filibuster. They can get a physical exam, an X-ray or an electrocardiogram, without leaving work.
The goodies are not part of their basic coverage. These are optional perks that cost about $300 a month for House members and about $600 a month for senators. Taxpayers kick in another $2-million.
What Obama and Clinton refer to is the basic health care plan offered to all federal workers, including elected ones. It's called the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
The program boasts that it's the widest selection of health plans in the nation. If you get insurance through work, you may have only two or three health care options. But the massive pool of federal workers stimulates intense competition for their business. Workers can choose from an array of plans offered by dozens of health care providers nationwide - from HMOs, to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, to even labor unions.
Premiums vary, depending on how much coverage is desired, and costs are shared by the government and individual workers. On average, the government pays 72 percent. Members of Congress end up paying anywhere from $100 to $300 a month.
That's what Obama and Clinton mean by health care as good as Congress gets. They mean almost as good. Nobody is going to give you your own pharmacy and medical team.
Sources for this story include the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and numerous published reports.